Tag Archives: Brand Management and Branding

Some intel on INTEL®

Originally posted 2010-04-07 03:15:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

CIA Headquarters - intel inside

There's intel inside.

BUMPED from January 1, 2010 and UPDATED due to decision (scroll to the bottom for the stunning conclusion):

Had you heard about this one from Mike Masnick?

Chip giant Intel has a bit of a reputation for being a trademark bully at times, threatening or suing many companies just for having “intel” in their name somewhere — including a travel agency and a jeans company. Now, before anyone brings it up, yes, as a trademark holder the law requires you to enforce your trademark against infringement, lest it become considered “generic” (such as xerox machines, kleenex tissues, aspirin and other brand names that became generic).  But, the key in all of those generic situations was that the use was applied to things that directly competed with the original brand’s products. People referred to other tissues as “kleenex” and it stuck. Intel’s lawyers seem to go out of their way to find potential infringement where there obviously is none at all.

Paul Alan Levy alerts us to the latest such case, where Intel has sued the operators of the Mexico Watch newsletter, because its domain is LatinIntel.com. Of course, the reason for that is that it is using the commonly accepted abbreviation of “intel” as short for “intelligence.” It’s common shorthand, especially within government circles, to refer to gathered intelligence as simply “intel.” . . .

More importantly, no one is going to look at LatinIntel.com and confuse it for the world’s largest computer chip maker. No one is going to look at that site and wonder how come they can’t order a Centrino processor. There’s simply no confusion at all. . . .

Well, when I first read that post, I thought Mike may just be on to something there. Here’s how I see it now:

UPDATE:  Intel loses (don’t get excited about the “decision” itself however!)

Yay us!

Glory and gratitude to my co-counsel Colby Springer who nailed it at oral argument.

MORE:  Is less.

Where you stand depends on where you sit

Originally posted 2009-12-28 09:00:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I’ve never had a guest post in response to a LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® item before, but that’s only because no one with the stature to respond to something I’ve written here based on personal knowledge of the facts has ever had the nerve to ask for one — not until I entered the rock and roll world of the fascinating Ritchie Fliegler, that is.  Ritchie’s a marketing guy, not a lawyer, so, naturally, he’s not afraid to speak truth to, uh, whatever it is this thing we have here is.Here’s what I would love to be able to say is the first of many replies to a LOC blog post from someone with a different point of view, and in a position to know. — RDC

 

“Where you stand depends on where you sit” – Nelson Mandela

This is one of my favorite quotes.  Not only does it ring true on so many levels, it’s also easier to understand than Einstein’s theory of relativity, which says basically the same thing —“Two events, simultaneous for some observer, may not be simultaneous for another observer if the observers are in relative motion.”

What does this have to do with trademark law? Not much actually, but it has a lot to do with a spirited and interesting conversation I had recently, with Ron.

Like many of you, my Google alerts are set to tick off on a number of subjects near and dear to me, classic cars, family members, former employers and the like. A few days ago the Google light went off alerting me to a blog post about a former employer, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) and their failed attempt to register trademarks for their famous guitar-body shapes – Strat, Tele and P-Bass. The article was well written, and thoughtful, however, in a vortex of relativity that would do ol’ Albert proud, my blood started to boil at what I perceived as purposeful errors and omissions by an uninformed outsider.

Now, I have been away from FMIC for well over two years, but I still have many dear friends at the place as well as a lingering vested interest… so I sprung in to action and sent a message with a requisite level of rancor. Read More…

Turning back that Crimson Tide

Originally posted 2009-11-03 13:50:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Trademark law does not trump the right to make and sell artistic depictions of real life after all, it turns out.  Or even NCAA football.

Almost exactly four years ago I wrote about the suit by the University of Alabama urging the obnoxious claim that artistic depictions of its players at play were, by virtue of utilization of the familiar uniforms and colors of those players, infringements of the Alabama trademarks in its corporate sports machine.  Amazingly, the first judicial ruling in that case has just come out — and, blessedly, it gets it right (even if the Tuscaloosa News reporting of it is a little, er, sic):

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Propst said in an opinion that Moore did not violate trademark laws by painting scenes of Crimson Tide football without licensing the work through the university. He rejected UA’s argument that the football team’s uniform and colors are iconic enough to trump First Amendment rights in fine art.

‘This court concludes that the depiction of the uniforms in the paintings is incidental to the purpose and expression of the paintings; that is, to artistically depict and preserve notable football plays in the history of University of Alabama football,’ Propst wrote in his memorandum opinion.

UA attorneys had argued before Propst in a hearing two weeks ago that Moore’s paintings showed trade dress, which they said is any symbol associated with UA, including the crimson and white color scheme.UA sued Moore for trademark violations in March 2005, alleging that he painted scenes of Crimson Tide football games without permission from the university and reissued previously licensed prints without paying royalties. The university is seeking back pay [sic] for more than 20 paintings and wants Moore to license any future paintings. . . .

Propst knocks down nearly every claim made by UA attorneys against Moore, even writing that Moore did not violate previous licensing agreements with new or reissued paintings. At the center of the issue, Propst dismisses UA’s assertion that painting Crimson Tide football violates [sic] trademark because the uniforms and their colors are not protected.

Also, UA argued that Moore’s paintings were too realistic and did not transform the original scene enough to constitute artistic expression. However, Propst writes the reality of the painting is needed to relate the play and adds to the level of artistry.

Propst also writes there isn’t enough confusion among customers as to who sponsors the paintings. ‘It is likely that people who buy the Moore paintings do so, at least partially, because of their loyalty to the University of Alabama and its football team,’ he wrote. ‘That, however, does not create any reasonable inference that they do so because of confusion based on the color of the uniforms.’

The whole opinion is here.

There will be no end to the greed or the attempt to utterly distort the entire purpose of trademark here — this will be appealed, it has been promised.  In the Eleventh Circuit (as everywhere else), “To show a likelihood of success on the merits for [either a] trademark and trade dress infringement, [a plaintiff] must show that consumers will likely confuse the [plaintiff's] mark or dress with [the junior user's product or service]. See Carnival Brand Seafood Co. v. Carnival Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1307, 1309 (11th Cir. 1999) (trademark); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., v. Samara Bros., Inc., 529 U.S. 205, 146 L. Ed. 2d 182, 120 S. Ct. 1339,1343 (2000) (trade dress).”  So what’s the argument — the public will think that the paintings are the Crimson Tide’s latest run defense?

Of course, consumer confusion is never, ever seriously considered in naked rent-seeking cases such as these — Read More…

Locking it down

Originally posted 2008-07-10 00:01:41. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Every lawyer who practices in the intellectual property area is asked frequently how to go about protecting a unique or creative idea that someone fears is at risk of being stolen by a prospective investor, partner or advisor to whom early disclosure is necessary. During the dot-com bubble, everyone walked around, it seemed, with an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) ready to be beamed from his Palm. Is an NDA still the answer?  This post is actually about trademark registrations — but let me briefly reiterate my views about NDA’s, and, as we say, “connect up” the two seemingly unrelated topics.

I usually have a couple of points to make in response to the NDA question:

  1. Most people to whom you are considering making disclosure are in the driver’s seat, and will not sign a non-disclosure agreement because doing so almost invites a claim if they end up getting involved in someone else’s similar project years later. Or they won’t sign just because you need them more than they need you.
  2. Your idea isn’t really all that hot. Successful new businesses owe far more to (a) entrepreneurs’ focus and dedication, (b) adequate capitalization, (c) great timing and (d) the grace of God (not in that order), than to having come up with truly original concepts.

Security or death

These and similar arguments are well developed in an article from a few years ago called “The Cult of the NDA,” written (I think) by a fellow named Peter Leppik, which article lawyer readers of this blog should bookmark.

Comes now an entertainment lawyer named Barry Neil Shrum who has written a pretty thoughtful piece on some approaches that actually might work. It’s worth taking a look at. But I must note disagreement with his advice about trademarks, which unfortunately will reinforce, unintentionally, a number of common misconceptions about trademarks that are “out there.” And that means it’s time again to try to set things straight.

Early on Barry presents a fair summary of what you need to get trademark protection, though more on his allusion to securing trademarks for “titles” below. He helpfully makes it clear that federal trademark registration is “tedious, complicated and costly,” but doesn’t explain why, or explicitly address the concept of the Intent to Use application, which seems central to his ultimate advice.

And that leads to my beef — the following recommendation that Barry puts first on his list of otherwise very good, otherwise endorsed-by-LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® suggestions:

(1) First, trademark all slogans, titles or name, at the very least your state level, but preferably at the federal level;

Unfortunately, this suggestion is densely packed with problems because Barry has not elucidated some fundamental facts about trademarks. Read More…

Best of 2009: “Orange you glad you’re such mullahs?”

Originally posted 2009-12-26 22:48:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This was first posted on April 29, 2009:

William Lozito at Name Wire writes about a counterfeiting double-cross, or is it triple-cross or something more?, that is so byzantine in its fruity dimensions that only the wretched Zionist Entity could have hatched it. So, what happens when Jew oranges infiltrate the Islamic Republic of Iran’s citrus bins, formerly believed impregnable against the Elders of Zion and their nefarious schemes?:

Fruity Jew

Fruity Jew

[T]he seemingly innocent appearance of “Jaffa Sweetie Israel-PO” oranges was enough to make one Iranian official declare that “rogue elements” were trying to “disgrace the ruling government.”

As it turns out, those “rogue elements” were unscrupulous Chinese middlemen, who illegally used the “Jaffa Sweetie” brand name on their counterfeit fruit.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that “President Ahmadinejad inadvertently distributed the fruit during a two day goodwill visit to the town of Salam in southern Iran.”

The Chinese and Iranian investigators have counter-claimed that they actually bought the real thing in Israel and simply forgot to remove the stickers before sending them on to Iran. One then must wonder if it is the brand naming of the oranges or the oranges themselves that is the actual problem?

Jujyfruits

Jujyfruits

The Iranians claim they want no part of “Zionist” oranges, but if the Chinese investigators are correct, then they have been eating them via China, branded as Jaffa or something else, for some time.

Well this much is clear: Of all the wicked Jews controlling the world these days, it’s the Chinese ones who are the worst, you know?

Hat tip to Pamela Chestek, a known insidious fruit-handler herself.

Comments at the original post.

Best of 2013: Turning back that Crimson Tide

Originally posted 2009-11-03 13:50:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Originally published January 8, 2013

Trademark law does not trump the right to make and sell artistic depictions of real life after all, it turns out.  Or even NCAA football.

Almost exactly four years ago I wrote about the suit by the University of Alabama urging the obnoxious claim that artistic depictions of its players at play were, by virtue of utilization of the familiar uniforms and colors of those players, infringements of the Alabama trademarks in its corporate sports machine.  Amazingly, the first judicial ruling in that case has just come out — and, blessedly, it gets it right (even if the Tuscaloosa News reporting of it is a little, er, sic):

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Propst said in an opinion that Moore did not violate trademark laws by painting scenes of Crimson Tide football without licensing the work through the university. He rejected UA’s argument that the football team’s uniform and colors are iconic enough to trump First Amendment rights in fine art.

‘This court concludes that the depiction of the uniforms in the paintings is incidental to the purpose and expression of the paintings; that is, to artistically depict and preserve notable football plays in the history of University of Alabama football,’ Propst wrote in his memorandum opinion.

UA attorneys had argued before Propst in a hearing two weeks ago that Moore’s paintings showed trade dress, which they said is any symbol associated with UA, including the crimson and white color scheme.UA sued Moore for trademark violations in March 2005, alleging that he painted scenes of Crimson Tide football games without permission from the university and reissued previously licensed prints without paying royalties. The university is seeking back pay [sic] for more than 20 paintings and wants Moore to license any future paintings. . . .

Propst knocks down nearly every claim made by UA attorneys against Moore, even writing that Moore did not violate previous licensing agreements with new or reissued paintings. At the center of the issue, Propst dismisses UA’s assertion that painting Crimson Tide football violates [sic] trademark because the uniforms and their colors are not protected.

Also, UA argued that Moore’s paintings were too realistic and did not transform the original scene enough to constitute artistic expression. However, Propst writes the reality of the painting is needed to relate the play and adds to the level of artistry.

Propst also writes there isn’t enough confusion among customers as to who sponsors the paintings. ‘It is likely that people who buy the Moore paintings do so, at least partially, because of their loyalty to the University of Alabama and its football team,’ he wrote. ‘That, however, does not create any reasonable inference that they do so because of confusion based on the color of the uniforms.’

The whole opinion is here.

There will be no end to the greed or the attempt to utterly distort the entire purpose of trademark here — this will be appealed, it has been promised.  In the Eleventh Circuit (as everywhere else), “To show a likelihood of success on the merits for [either a] trademark and trade dress infringement, [a plaintiff] must show that consumers will likely confuse the [plaintiff's] mark or dress with [the junior user's product or service]. See Carnival Brand Seafood Co. v. Carnival Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1307, 1309 (11th Cir. 1999) (trademark); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., v. Samara Bros., Inc., 529 U.S. 205, 146 L. Ed. 2d 182, 120 S. Ct. 1339,1343 (2000) (trade dress).”  So what’s the argument — the public will think that the paintings are the Crimson Tide’s latest run defense?

Of course, consumer confusion is never, ever seriously considered in naked rent-seeking cases such as these — Read More…

Urban Smear

Originally posted 2006-01-03 12:39:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

We’ve blogged on graffiti before. Wordsmith to the stars Jane Genova reports on a little commercial free speech applied a bit too freely — as in, on other people’s walls:

Seems Sony contracted with local graffiti artists to plaster urban space in seven cities with caricatures of children playing with video toys. The ads don’t carry any product names or the Sony brand name. The strategy was to simulate street art to deliver a commercial message about the fun of video products.

What Sony might have considered edgy and out there the city of Philadelphia as well as anti-graffiti organizations, for instance, considered out of line and against the law. Sony had not applied for the mandatory licensing and zone approval. Unofficially signs are being defaced and there could be official fines and other legal action. In New York, street folks have covered over the Sony “ad” with stickers saying “Corporate vandals not welcome.”

What the heck, they’ve been vandalizing the music industry for this long, anyway — what’s a few placards at this point?

Revival of the dead

Originally posted 2008-07-31 15:36:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Just this morning a client told me about this company, River West Brands, that finds ways to obtain some semblance of the “rights” in abandoned consumer-products trademarks and “revitalize them for modern relevance, reconstruct the business model for today’s marketplace, and ultimately return these brands to the consumer.”  So big of them!  (For another post about the “brand equity” gold to be mined in the consciousness of America’s most narcissistic generation, see this recent item.)

Pam Chestek took a long hard look at this on her blog, Property, Intangible, and focuses on litigation Cotton Mather -- Brand Builder in the PURITAN Linebetween Smuckers, the one-time owner of one of those brands, PURITAN for cooking oil.  River West, which had only filed an Intent to Use application, backed down.

Her analysis is well worth looking at, and she considers some of the questions this new “business model” raises in the context of what the think a trademark should be, and what perhaps it really is, in the 21st century:

If River West stays around long, it could generate some interesting new case law on trademark rights and abandonment.

And by trademark rights, Pamela surely means “trademark rights in gross” — the concept, rejected under classical U.S. trademark doctrine but insidiously becoming a fact of life, that there can be such a thing as trademark rights “in gross,” i.e., separated from the goods or services with which a mark is associated in the mind of the public.

It would seem that if we want to retain this fundamental feature of American trademark law, it is River West, and not (merely by some claim to ancient rights or pedigree) Smucker’s, that should — upon a proper finding of abandonment — be allowed the opportunity to “build” a new brand — on a framework of new use.  That’s true even if it does so on a foundation abandoned by others.

UPDATE:  John Welch reports on a TTAB case also implicating the concept of resurrection of “legacy” brands.

Dough, a dear

Originally posted 2010-08-11 11:48:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Pillsbury Doughboy

"TM" this, "TM" that....

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man wreaked some havoc in his time, but who would have thought that his inspiration — the Pillsbury Doughboy — would act the part of a veritable Gozer the Destroyer himself, at the expense of a funky new-age bakery?

A few weeks ago, the founder of a Salt Lake City-based bakery, My Dough Girl, got a letter from General Mills, the conglomerate that owns Pillsbury. To the 45-year-old entrepreneur’s surprise, the food giant had written to inform her she needed to change the name of her business — claiming it was too similar to Pillsbury’s famous doughboy mascot — or she risked facing legal action. Cromar decided, essentially, that was just the way the cookie crumbles. “I started baking cookies as a way to bring happiness to myself and others, so I really didn’t need this to become some canker on my existence,” Cromar said. “Plus, I just don’t have the resources to fight them.” The case marks the second time in recent weeks that a major corporation has taken issue with a small business over possible trademark infringement.

“The second time in recent weeks,” eh?  That must be awful.

Doughboys

Over here

Sit down, have a croissant.  Let’s talk about this. Dough boy, dough boy, dough boy… where have I heard that? Right — over here (right) — those guys. But while there are batches and batches of DOUGHBOY trademark registrations — some dead, but plenty alive — it does seem that Pilsbury is understandably sensitive about the use of the term in association with baked goods, made famous by its lovable mascot, POPPIN’ FRESH® !

Well actually, a bunch of POPPIN’ FRESH registrations seem to have gone stale, but evidently he’s still a doll (Reg. No. 72307131), and ain’t he? Anyway, back to his, uh, generic name — the DOUGHBOY thing.

Well before we even talk about whether a bakery called DOUGH GIRL is likely to be confused with a commercial baked goods company’s DOUGHBOY , did you notice the graphic on top up there?  How Pillsbury uses a “TM” instead of a ® symbol all over its site?

That is interesting, isn’t it?  Pillsbury does, after all, have a couple of registrations — though not exactly the ones you’d think:

  • Reg. No. 2832951 is for “Baking mix for cake,” in International Class 030 — Staple foods, baked goods, just what you’d think
  • Reg. No. 2764538 is for “Refrigerated dough.”  Same deal.
  • Reg. No. 2091501 is for “Clothing, namely, T-shirts [and boxer shorts].”  Class 25.  Well, sure.

Ok, still, that seems close enough, doesn’t it?  If I were Pillsbury I wouldn’t want anyone selling baked good using DOUGHBOY either, and I’ve got some good and famous registrations to help me stop them.  So why does the Pillsbury site utilize the TM — a common-law assertion of trademark rights, rather than an indication of federal trademark registration — instead of the “circle R”? The reason seems to be that Pillsbury is being careful, and is well advised by its counsel.  See, as the excerpt above readily demonstrates, they’re using the DOUGHBOY™ trademark (which, contrary to what some people think — and don’t bother to confirm — is not used in a way that “always seems to include the Pillsbury name”)  far more broadly on the site, and everywhere else in creation, it seems, than the uses described in these registrations.
My Dough Girl
Well, what would happen if they used the (R) symbol more broadly than their registrations authorize?  It wouldn’t be entirely ethical, or truthful, or maybe even legal… but would it be so terrible?  Not really, as Mike Atkins explains:

The Circle-R symbol indicates that a mark is federally registered. It’s irksome when parties use it without having met the rigors needed for its lawful use. It’s even more irksome that the Lanham Act doesn’t penalize owners for displaying the symbol when they haven’t earned it. Imagine the PTO’s reaction when it got the drawing of this applied-for trademark design— sporting the Circle-R — falsely signaling it already has a federal registration. The PTO’s response? A mild office action directing that “Applicant must submit a new drawing with the ‘®’ deleted because it is not part of the mark.” What else could the PTO do? Ignorance is probably responsible for most misuse, but fraud is at the heart of some of it. I only wish the Lanham Act punished knowing misuse.

Well, they do some things right at Pillsbury.   Read More…

Old trademarks never die…

Originally posted 2010-01-07 14:59:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

They just fade away.

Mostly.

Lug me tender

Originally posted 2010-02-24 23:56:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Doctors (J.D.) Detroit?

Should a law school be tendering seven figures of money to a minor league baseball team for stadium naming rights?  That is certainly a novel question.

I tackled the whole concept of branding, memory and stadium names in the context of the Mets’ Citi Field deal a few years ago–but a bank is one thing.  Heck, these guys know how to make record profits just by threatening to go out of business!  So who am I to say?

But a law school?  That’s something I know a little about!

And… with all due respect… should the law school that does that be Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan?  Well, perhaps if it would be any school it would be Cooley, which has always marched to the sound of a different drummer.

A very, very different drummer.  I once wrote an article, or perhaps just a short roundup-type item, about Cooley when I was contributing editor for Student Lawyer magazine, but I can’t get my hands on the cuneiform tablets just now.  I do remember that it was the school that actually did things “the old fashioned way”–they actually admitted two or three times the number of students who were really going to make it through law school, and they actually kicked out people who couldn’t cut it.  So, yes, they have always been very funky, original and daring over there.

And in that context, now let’s see the Wall Street Journal Law Blog and the stadium story:

According to the NLJ, the law school will pay just shy of $1.5 million to the Lansing Lugnuts (a single-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays) in return for the naming rights for 11 years. What used to be called Oldsmobile Park is now, just like that, Cooley Law School Stadium.

Much of the coverage was, well, critical of the decision in a way that didn’t necessarily seem unfair. To summarize the skeptics’ main question: What’s a law school not exactly at Harvard’s level doing throwing money at a baseball stadium in the middle of a severe economic downturn?

For a little help, we chatted today with Don LeDuc, the dean of the law school to ask him what about the deal, and to give him a chance to answer his critics.

Hey Don. So tell us about the deal.

The agreement we have with the Lugnuts has two elements, a marketing element and also an amenities element. Along with the name recognition, you also get some amenities at the park. We’ll be doing a sort of extended version of what we used to do at Comerica Park, where the Tigers play, in which we matched up students with alumni working in Detroit and all went to a ballgame. We’ll be doing that with the Lugnuts too. We’ll also do some community outreach at the stadium, too, in which we’ll take kids from Lansing to a game. Read More…

Trademarks, copyright, brand equity, and rent-seeking: Soapbox 2010

Originally posted 2010-01-17 19:28:52. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

From last week’s INTA Trademark Topics email discussion list.  One name has been changed to protect the innocent, and the links, by way of annotation, have been added, as have arbitrary pictures meant to break up the monotony.

—–Original Message—–

from:                               ATMLawyer@changedtoprotecttheinnocent.org
to:                                     INTA List <tmtopics@lists.inta.org>
date:                                Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 5:18 PM
subject (INTA List):  movie title or characters or theme as trademark
mailed-by:                    lists.inta.org
On Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 5:18 PM, A TM Lawyer wrote:

Client wants develop a family of marks that adopt or suggest an old and famous movie or its characters, plot, or theme.  Lets say someone wants to put out wine branded, GONE WITH THE WIND  or maybe FRANKLY, I DON’T GIVE A DAMN,  or branded with the name of one of the characters, or branded with something that suggests a famous scene from the movie.  Thoughts on how to analyze this?  Does it matter that the owner of the movie rights has never conducted a merchandising program, has no trademark registrations for the names, has never sold the subject goods (wine in my example), and maybe never sold anything branded in this manner?/blockquote>

On Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 1:44 PM, Ron Coleman <likelihoodofconfusion@gmail.com> wrote:

TM Lawyer, your client sounds very creative.  So you’ll want to nip that right in the bud.

Your advice should not place undue weight on the so-called merits of the inevitable legal challenge to your client’s business.  These are irrelevant unless your client is funded for extensive litigation.  And because many non-specialists are under the impression that if they win a trademark case, they can “get fees,” be sure it understands that fee shifting will never be granted to a defendant no matter what.  If your client can, however, build the cost of litigation into its early-stage budget, you will want to explain the following:
MLK Federal Courthouse, Newark - interior
Your premise, naturally, is that there is some sweet spot where a business such as the one you describe makes the least possible incursions onto any cognizable rights of the original “property,” yet maximizes its benefit from the goodwill associated with it.  Finding that spot will be pretty elusive, however.

As you know, it is “well established” that the there is little or no protection for the titles of literary works.  (UPDATE:  Nota bene via @MegLG!)  But that’s just what a bunch of old cases say.  Today we have “brand equity,” so your client will be wise to do as you suggested and go with with allusive, rather than direct, references to the “property” in question.  There is no sense in making this too easy for the other side!

I agree with you, too, that by traditional standards the would-be challenger would have an uphill battle proving secondary meaning.  But in the post-Warhol world, fame (the sine qua non of trademark dilution) is everything.  After all, your client’s business model is premised on exploiting the fame and “brand” equity accreted around these creative works.  No registered marks are in play, so as you know federal dilution claims should be off the table.

But how vulnerable is your client to claims of state-law trademark dilution and infringement and Lanham Act section 43(a) claims for unfair competition and false designation of origin?  The legal answer to all these is likely to come down to this:  Is this new business “exploitation” of and “piggy-backing” on some untouchable bit of Intellectual Property ripe with Brand Equity?  After all, people may think your client’s stuff is “endorsed” or “authorized” by the original creators, or studio, or the fictional characters, or whatever.

New York Supreme Court, New York County

If the judge rolls that way, no survey or other competent evidence is likely to be required to demonstrate a likelihood of confusion (or of dilution).  On the other hand, a judge could decide your client is merely making a sly cultural reference, not infringing anything at all, as in, say, the “Chewy Vuitton” scenario. Read More…